Deni Avdija’s career night uncoincidentally corresponded with growing confidence in his 3-point shot

Mar 29, 2022 | Deni Avdija

Less than three weeks ago when Deni Avdija was in the midst of a career-worst three-game scoring drought feels like a long time ago. The 21-year old has bounced back strong in his last eight games averaging 13.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 3.1 assists with a .422/.361/.774 shooting slash. In Detroit on Saturday night, the second-year forward scored a career-high 21 points, while also adding 10 rebounds and four assists in 32 minutes.

“I played a lot of games, it’s my second season, towards the end of the season,” Avdija attributed his developing play. “I feel more free, I feel like I can help the team in many ways. I’m just having fun being on the court and just making plays for my teammates and winning games.”

With the Wizards proceeding cautiously with Kyle Kuzma’s right knee tendinitis who will miss his sixth straight game on Tuesday against the Bulls, Avdija has found the ball in his hands more often even with Tomas Satoransky or Ish Smith on the floor as the primary ball-handler. That is a familiar role for those who have tracked his career prior to joining the Wizards.

Deni Avdija – Photo Credit: Washington Wizards

“Deni was really good, especially early,” head coach Wes Unseld Jr. said about Avdija’s 15 point start on 6-for-8 shooting midway through the second quarter against the Pistons. “He had a nice rhythm, he was playing aggressive, downhill. Really good in pick and rolls as a scorer, playmaker.”

One aspect where Avdija understandably is still developing is his three-point shot. Prior to his rookie season, his closest coach in Maccabi Veljko Perovic knew it would take some time for him to acclimate to an even deeper three-point arc in the NBA compared to in Israel and EuroLeague. Without an offseason this past summer due to his recovery from a right fibular hairline fracture in his ankle and always competing year-round as a teenager, the upcoming summer will serve as the first time for Avdija to hone in that portion of his game. But in classic Deni Avdija fashion, he has not wanted to wait until the offseason and is notoriously in the gym not just before and after practice, but also returning at night at home or sometimes even on the road to work on his shot.

Deni Avdija – Photo Credit: Washington Wizards

“I was always believing in my shot, I think my percentage is lying a little bit,” Avdija expressed. “I’m still experiencing not every night I feel good shooting-wise. It’s something that I learn from. I think as I mature and I’ll be more experienced, I’ll be more focused on 3-point shots and I think the percentage will go up with time. I’m putting in a lot of work. I’m shooting almost every night and I keep believing in my shot. I’m not staying away, I’m not afraid to shoot it, that’s the most important.”

On the season, Avdija has shot 31.8 percent from beyond the arc, but in the small sample size of the last three games is shooting 44.4 percent (8-for-18). Similar to when he stepped up to make a big triple late against the Lakers, I was impressed by Avdija’s ability to hit back-to-back three-pointers in opposite corners against the Warriors to close out the third quarter and keep Golden State at bay (no pun intended). The latter came after he badly air-balled a three earlier in the game, which is never a fun feeling. So far opponents have been willing to force Avdija to shoot instead of getting beat to the paint by playing too far up and eventually defenses will adjust if the Israeli can continue to make them pay for an extended stretch.

Deni Avdija – Photo Credit: Washington Wizards

“Great question because I feel like they are,” Avdija answered Sports Rabbi’s question on if defenses are softly guarding him on the perimeter. “With the percentage sometimes they treat me like I can’t shoot or they’re closing a bit short to me. I’m not not going to shoot it, I know what I’m capable of, I know how my shot can be. Sometimes I just go into a slump and I don’t make it, but I’m not taking it personally. I’m just going to keep shooting and if they want to sag off me, that’s fine, it’s going to be more open shots.”

With less than two weeks and just eight games until the Wizards’ season almost certainly ends on April 10 with their final regular-season game, it would be wise for Unseld to continue prioritizing Avdija’s minutes over veteran players in the rotation to catalyze his development. If for nothing else, Washington may be in the trade market for a point guard this summer and they should want all of their young assets stock to be high.

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